Norwich Foodbank preparing for further increase in demand from families in crisis

A community charity is gearing up to feed 5,000 people in Norwich who are struggling to put food on the table.

Norwich Foodbank has warned demand is increasing as more people find themselves in crisis and needing short-term emergency help.

And the expanding voluntary group, which started life in two garages with a couple of distribution centres, is calling on people to keep giving generously.

It hopes to gather more than 40 tonnes of food, valued at �55,000, in the next 12 months.

Benefit delays and low income have been found to be the two biggest reasons why people required help from the foodbank in 2011/12.

Cuts in benefits, refusal of crisis loans, debt and unemployment also featured.

Care agencies assess people and refer them to the foodbank, with only those in dire straits receiving a voucher. This is exchanged for three days' worth of food. If a person or family is referred to the charity on three separate occasions, then extra questions will be asked to understand why a crisis is continuing and what can be done to help.

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Grant Habershon, Norwich Foodbank project manager, said he was finding people's emergencies were lasting for longer due to the tough economic circumstances.

But he said they were not allowing people to become dependent on the group.

Mr Habershon, right, said: 'This year we have been dealing with someone with 11 vouchers. That was someone who had their benefits stopped and it took a number of weeks before a review found out the benefits should not have been stopped. That person was desperate.

'The final figures for June will be roughly 450 people in crisis getting three days' worth of food. We are looking at gearing up to feed 5,000 people in the next 12 months.'

Foodbank launched in Norwich in October 2010 and currently serves the surrounding area with 10 distribution centres.

Items are donated at several drop-off points and supermarkets, while group collections total 70pc of the food gathered for the cause.

In the last 12 months, 31.2 tonnes of food valued at more than �43,000 has been collected.

Between April 2011 and March 2012, there were 3,313 people recorded as receiving help.

Mr Habershon said peak demand was in July and August when free school meals stopped for children due to the summer break.

Monthly figures also show 498 people received help in May this year - the highest yet for the charity.

Mr Habershon told Norwich City Council's scrutiny committee: 'We are getting a lot of people who say they never dreamt they would have needed food.

'We are not looking at helping people who have not got much money. We are looking at helping crisis and emergency situations. What we do is we want to make sure there's no dependency risk and the underlying issues are being addressed.'

Councillors were told there had always been a need for a foodbank to help Norwich's hidden hungry.

The council's scrutiny committee is planning to research further how it can help deal with the backlog of benefits and lobby the government for help.

Mike Stonard, Catton Grove Labour councillor, added: 'For me it's shocking in June 2012 that 450 people were reliant on food handouts to feed families for everyday needs.

'I didn't realise the situation was this bad. We are in hard times and government policies and cuts to support services are not helping things, but the demand has increased and it seems it's going to increase.'

Despite criticisms of the government's welfare changes and proposed cuts, Norwich MPs Chloe Smith and Simon Wright have both supported the foodbank and helped with collections.

Miss Smith said: 'No-one denies times are tough. The UK is in recession and we are having to pay the callous legacy of debt that the last government left to the city and country, but there has always been a need for this kind of charity.

'There will always be, tragically, people who have suffered bereavement of the bread winner, household breakdown, domestic violence and all sorts of things. Worst of all these kind of circumstances can be because of problems in bureaucracy when benefits should be put and haven't been. That's not acceptable.'

She added: 'I think Norwich Foodbank is a Norwich gem.'

What do you think? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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